BY STAN CURRIE
The people of St. Giles Presbyterian Church are very happy that the front doors of our church are once again open to the Glebe community. The Sanctuary of St. Giles was closed and locked by the Presbytery of Ottawa at a closing service on Sunday, November 20, 2011. Worship services subsequently were held downstairs until a recent decision by the Presbytery to reopen the Sanctuary. On Sunday, May 12 the Presbytery conducted a special reopening service for our Sanctuary. About a hundred people attended this joyous occasion. After almost a year and half downstairs, regular Sunday morning services (10:30 a.m.) resumed upstairs in the Sanctuary starting Sunday, May 19.
We were also delighted to participate fully in the Great Glebe Garage Sale as we have traditionally done. Our front doors, as well as our side door, were open to those seeking washroom facilities and warmth on a cool day as well as the opportunity to purchase beautiful quilts, baked goods and bargains. Our spirits were lifted by playing a role, once again, in the life of the neighbourhood.
The past two years at St. Giles have been a difficult time for us. Last November, an attempt to mediate the conflict failed. In January, the Presbytery was faced with a choice between closing the congregation or putting in new leadership. We are thankful that they chose the latter and granted us another chance to restore St. Giles to health.
Closing the congregation would have resulted almost certainly in the sale of the church property. The negative consequences of that possibility for the neighbourhood have been a real concern, since St. Giles is located on a major corner of Bank Street. We have a long history of providing affordable rental space, in short supply in the Glebe, to community non-profit groups. Displacing these organizations was not a pleasant prospect for us. We are relieved to be able to tell you that this threatening scenario has been averted.
Since February, we have been fortunate in having two diaconal ministers, Dorothy Herbert, former co-director of Gracefield Christian Camp and Retreat Centre, and Christine Ball, regional staff person for Eastern Ontario, sharing the leadership of our worship services. Despite this good news, we have to say that the situation at St. Giles has not yet normalized. We have taken the first steps on the road to recovery but much hard work remains. A key milestone in the current plan for St. Giles is to find an interim minister with specialized training and experience in “intentional” ministry. One of the priorities will be to lead a healing process to help the members deal with the personal pain and upset they have experienced. We are hoping that the right person for this leadership role will be found in the next few months and no later than the end of 2013.
St. Giles, like many mainline Christian churches, has faced the need to adapt and change to remain relevant and effective in the 21st century. Statistics Canada recently reported the continuing decline in membership of major Christian denominations in Canada, as measured by the National Household Survey. This trend has caused anxiety among both clergy and laity who are now seeking fresh ways to reach the increasing number of younger Canadians who identify themselves as spiritual, but not religious. Often, there is disagreement about how to change, and how quickly. St. Giles is not alone in experiencing difficulties arising from this tension.
In this season of Pentecost, we are reminded as Christians that the Holy Spirit should guide us when we need help and comfort, and are not sure what we should do. A beautiful banner was created to celebrate the reopening of the Sanctuary. It depicts a burning bush with the caption: “They will know we are Christians by our love.” In the panels representing flames, our members have written what we are doing or have done to carry out God’s work in the world. Some flames are blank to signify that there will be new things that God will call us to do in the future.
We appreciate very much the expressions of concern and support from our neighbours in the Glebe and particularly neighbouring churches. We look forward to sharing summer services again this year with Glebe- St. James United and Southminster United. Three services will be held at St. Giles on July 21, July 28 and August 4. We will be in the Sanctuary, unless heat and humidity send us downstairs where it is cooler. All summer services start at 10 a.m., and everyone is welcome.
Stan Currie is a member of St. Giles Presbyterian Church and long-time Glebe resident. Doors of the Sanctuary at St Giles Presbyterian Church are open again.